How to Become a Correctional Officer

Correctional officers have the job of overseeing those individuals that are arrested and are waiting for trial or those that have been sentenced to jail, prison, or some other type of reformatory terms. Correctional officers work in correctional institutions, which can be hazardous and quite stressful at times. This position has a high rate of nonfatal injuries.

Some of the duties of a correctional officer include:

  • Enforcing the rules and keeping order within prisons or jails.
  • Supervising the activities of the inmates.
  • Help in the counseling and rehabilitation of offenders.
  • Inspecting the conditions of the facilities to make sure that they meet the standards that have been established.
  • Searching inmates for items that are contraband.
  • Reporting on the conduct of the inmates.

Becoming a Correctional Officer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), correctional officers normally must be at least 18 to 21 years of age, must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and must have no felony convictions. In addition, new applicants for federal corrections positions must be appointed before they are 37 years of age.  In order to become a correctional officer a person will need to have graduated from high school or have an equivalent to a high school diploma.  There are some local and state correction agencies that will require a person applying for a position as a correctional officer to have some college credits. Often, military experience or law enforcement experience can be substituted for these requirements.

A person that wishes to work as a correctional officer in a federal prison will have to obtain a bachelor’s degree and also have three years of experience working full time in a field that involves offering assistance, supervision or counseling to people.


Some local, state, and federal departments of correction will provide training for their correctional officers that are based on the guidelines that were founded by the ACA (American Correctional Association). There are some states that have regional training academies available for their local agencies. During this training an individual will receive instruction on a variety of subjects including regulations, institutional policies, operations,  and security and custody procedures.

Once an individual has completed the formal academy instruction, on the job training  is provided by local and state correctional agencies. This will include training on interpersonal relations and legal restrictions. There are many facilities that will provide self-defense training as well as firearms proficiency to their correctional officer trainees.

A new correctional officer at a federal facility is required to undergo formal training for 200 hours throughout their initial year of being employed. This includes 120 hours training that takes place at the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons training center. Officers that have been on the job for awhile receive in-service training each year to keep up with new procedures and developments.

Career Advancement

One option for someone interested in this field is to become a part of the prison tactical response team. These individuals are trained on how to respond in hostage situations, riots, and other disturbances that could be potentially dangerous. There are a number of certifications that help further a correctional officer career.

A person who qualifies may advance into the correctional sergeant position. The correctional sergeant is responsible for directing the activities of the other officers and maintaining security throughout the facility. There are also administrative positions and supervisory positions available for those correctional officers that qualify.

Job Prospects

There are some state and local correctional facilities that have a high rate of turnover because of shift work combined with low salaries. This is in combination with the stress of the job. There should be many jobs opening in this field based on individuals transferring to other positions, retiring, or leaving the labor force.